Tag Archives: clay

Coming home to Santa Cruz

Wow.  My first full day at home in Santa Cruz, CA, the first thing that I noticed was the quiet.  Compared to the bell-clanging, horn-honking, engine-sputtering, brake-squealing hustle-bustle of Kolkata’s 4.5 million human residents, plus umpteen million cars, motorcycles, auto-rickshaws, crows, dogs, cats, goats, and squirrels, Santa Cruz (pop. about 63,000) is practically a ghost town. This afternoon, just a few waves are lapping the sand at Seabright Beach, and if I listen really closely, I can hear the barking of a couple of the sea lions hanging out underneath the Santa Cruz Wharf, more than a mile away.  At the end of next month, after Memorial Day, the tourists will take over.  Even then the resulting increase in busyness could never be compared to the likes of Kolkata.

Two weeks before I left, as I was desperately searching for packaging materials, I also started to emotionally process that I would be leaving Kolkata after being there for the better part of seven months.  A great part of me couldn’t wait to come home!! Yet, I knew that as soon as I arrived home, another, equal, part of me would be missing Kolkata.

There are the obvious things that I welcome about being home — my husband, cats, garden, studio, being able to bite into an apple without peeling it first, and eating raw, leafy green salads without a detailed, rigorous rinsing regimen.  And having my truck there for me to drive, wherever, whenever.

This was my fifth visit to India.  The first three relatively short visits were as a tourist, during the late 80’s – late 90’s.  The fourth visit was as an artist-in-residence at Sanskriti Kendra in 2011, plus a little traveling. This time was very different.  In seven months, I made many friends and developed a rhythm of living life there which made leaving so bittersweet.  There’s so much to miss about Kolkata and its vibrant, teeming culture — rather than listing it all, I prefer to resolve to return in the future.  And I will.

Meanwhile, I’m back and there’s so much to do!  Besides the post-grant Fulbright paperwork and the ever-present house and garden projects, what I’m looking forward to the most is diving back into the studio and integrating all of these incredibly rich experiences into my work, both permanent and temporary.  My experiences with Elements and Ek Tara have motivated me to seek more partners for collaborative works.  Any ideas? Please contact me at cynthiasiegel@msn.com.  And check back soon, as I evolve this blog to share how the work begun in Kolkata takes its shape in the USA.

Mishty Magic

Please forgive me the transgression of diverting us from all things clay sculptural, and indulge me in a bit o’discourse regarding one of my favorite parts of Bengali culture – Mishty.

Mishty is the Bengali word for sweet and is also the word for a dizzying variety of sweet foods that are made with nuts and/or milk products combined with spices and other flavorings.  Mishty shops are everywhere in Kolkata, and are a cause for wonder— if one stops to think about the sheer output of sweets in relation to the number of people available to eat them!  In any case, it’s not long into a conversation with a Bengali before they assert the superiority of Bengali sweets over all others.   While I won’t comment any more about that, I will definitively say that mishty are delicious!!

I favored one shop in particular, which was on the way to a studio where I worked occasionally.  The name is Balaram and Mullick’s, as pictured below, at the Bhawanipore location where they have been in business since 1885.

DSC_0147
Mishty Magic since 1885
DSC_0151
The store manager and great-grandson of the founder.
DSC_0149
Fresh kulfi (ice cream) is served with a variety of toppings.
DSC_0152
Always full of customers  DSC_0171

Oh, yum.

Rasgullah, sandesh, kheer, chamcham, chenna, chandra, kalakund, gulab jamun, ladoo —even in seven months of living here, I fear that there will not be enough time to try everything.   I have made a solemn promise to myself to learn to make the mishty doi (sweet yogurt) when I return to Santa Cruz.  For the rest, I’ll just need to return to Kolkata!

Molela and Nathdwara

Say hello to one of my new favorite places —-  Molela!

DSC_0002

In early February, my husband Stan and I were invited by artist and professor Gagan Dadich to stay and to work in his beautiful studio in the tiny village of Molela.  Located in the state of Rajasthan, Molela is famous for a unique style of ceramics, particularly for its charming narrative plaques and murals.  A few examples of the work:

DSC_1087 DSC_1086

There are about 40 families in Molela producing terracotta sculpture.  Only a few families are producing pottery.   Each workshop has many works lined up outside to entice shoppers inside.  Tour buses stop here occasionally to shop and then continue on their journey. Just a few people like us stick around for a little while to get to know the place.

DSC_1069

DSC_1072

DSC_0961

DSC_1088

DSC_1092

DSC_0931We spent a lot of time with one sculptor in particular, Shyam Lal.  This is his storefront, followed by several images of his works.  He had just finished a huge work segment and had many works ready for the beginning of what he called the buying season, meaning that over the next few weeks those tours buses that I mentioned before would be coming through en masse. Now he was enjoying his vacation time, which he generously shared with us.

DSC_0923 DSC_0926

DSC_0918
Shyam Lal Kumhar of Mangalam Terracotta Art
DSC_0902
Sculptures by Mangalam Terracotta Art

 

DSC_0908The forms are made using a combination of slabs and pinching. As many areas as possible are left open to encourage air circulation; examples in this piece are the crown and underneath the body of the horse.  The finer details are made by impressing with tools, or by adding small pieces of clay.  Cutting or carving into the clay would be difficult with the heavily fibrous consistency of the clay body.

DSC_0933
A beautiful mural installed in front of Shyam’s Mangalam Terracotta Art workshop

DSC_0031

 

Gagan’s studio is wonderful. New designs are painted once a year on the clay-dung walls, and the studio is brimming with works that he has made and collected.

 

 

DSC_1023

DSC_0027
Experimenting with Molela Clay

DSC_0026 We experimented with the Molela clay, which contains at least one third donkey dung in the clay body.  The donkey dung has an incredible amount of fiber in it, which gives the clay body not only the strength for making large plaques and tiles, but also for the extremely quick firings.  We were told that some firings are often finished in as little as three hours!

DSC_0065

Shankaraba (Shankar Lal Kumhar) is one of the few potters in Molela making exclusively functional ware.  We happened upon him as he and his family were loading his kiln.  (I wish that Santa Cruz city ordinances would allow me to put a kiln like this in my front yard.)DSC_1117
Before we left Molela for Nathdwara, we met another family loading their kiln, this time with sculptures, tiles and plaques, Jamnalal and Bharathi Kumhar of Kalptaru Terracotta Art Center.   We joined in to help carry out the work for loading, and enjoyed the camaraderie that is universal when it comes to clay.

DSC_0112DSC_0125

DSC_0141

 

This is part of Jaminlal and Bharathi’s showroom.  Very hard to choose from all the great pieces there!

 

 

 

 

DSC_0145

Nathdwara has a fantastic night market, nearby the Shrinathji Temple.  The lane leading up to the temple gate had shops with wonderful looking sweets.  We were shocked by the size of the ladoos — about the size of a softball and nearly ten times larger than the ones at the shops in Kolkata.  We bought one, and took two days to finish eating it!

The next morning I gave a lecture at  S.M.B. Government Post Graduate College in Nathdwara, where Gagan is a Professor of Art.  After my presentation I had the pleasure to spend time with his students and to learn about their interests and art processes.

DSC_0167

65786_1541380412808994_3009874303908752725_n

Back in Kolkata, Stan and I agreed that of all of the great memories that we brought back from this trip to Rajasthan, visiting Molela and Nathdwara is at the top of our list.

DSC_0114
Jamnalal’s work, freshly made

DSC_0966

 

Residency at Maihol House

How wonderful! In January I was invited to be part of an international group of ceramic artists who would  be working together at Maihol House, an artists’ residency center in Maihar, Madhya Pradesh.  Countries represented are India, Australia, Latvia, France, and the USA.

Maihol House is also the family home of Ambica Beri, who owns Gallery Sanskriti in Kolkata.  Ambica, a generous and nurturing soul as well as an avid supporter of the arts, sponsored all of us to participate in this wonderful residency.  She is also in the midst of opening another amazing residency center not far from Maihol House, called Art Ichol.

DSC_0354
Maihol House

DSC_0336

A twenty-three hour train ride later, I was met at the Maihar station by Kolkata ceramic artist Aditi Saraogi.   At Maihol House, I met three of the other invited artists, Anjani Khanna from Mumbai, and Eugenia Logovia and Anatoli Borodkin of Latvia, as well as Ambica Beri and her brand new assistant, Tanya Dutt.  The next day Eugenia and Anatoli and I set out to spend some time at the famous Khajuraho temples, as well as to rendezvous with the remaining two invited artists, Isabelle Roux of France and Sandra Black of Australia. (Khajuraho is one of the closer airports to Maihar.)

DSC_0113
Khajuraho

DSC_0169_01

Most of the temples of Khajuraho were first built around 1000 years ago!  They are covered with beautiful carvings of animals, dancers, musicians, and of course, lovers. Khajuraho is famous for erotic carvings, however, as our guide informed us, and we could see for ourselves, less than 15 percent of the carvings were explicitly sexual.

DSC_0096_01

DSC_0095_01

DSC_0097_01

DSC_0004_01Most of the temples have had some sort of reconstruction of over the last few hundred years.  The platform for this little temple was created with what looks like portions from many different temples, giving the effect of sculptural collage.

The next day we began our work at Sanskriti Ceramics.

DSC_0339
Aditi working outside near the ceramics studio
DSC_0345
Sandra Black, potter extraordinaire!

 

DSC_0342
My lovely roommate for the residency, Anjani Khanna, in the midst of creating one of her yalis.
DSC_0346
The fabulous Anatoli Borodkin!
DSC_0518_01
Isabel takes a break from work on her gorgeous vessel forms
DSC_0350_01
Eugenia near the studio pond

 

DSC_0377
My new friend who lives in that pond, and was the inspiration for the sculptural platter below

DSC_0358_01

After some intense days, we set our works out to dry, and Ambica took us to the Maihar Devi temple, which is dedicated to Sharada Ma, an aspect of Saraswati (goddess of knowledge, music and creative arts).

DSC_0208_01

DSC_0216
one amazing shrine on the side of the main temple

On the way back to Maihol House we stopped near some brick makers and their kilns to learn about the process.

DSC_0293_01

DSC_0232_01

 

DSC_0259_01
kiln for firing clay bricks

 

The next day we went to the Maihar Music School for a wonderful concert of Indian classical music given by the school’s instructor.  We learned that this school is famous as the place where Ravi Shankar studied.

DSC_0422_01

DSC_0418
Enjoying wonderful music at the Maihar Music School

DSC_0404_01

If these great experiences weren’t enough — Aditi worked with Devilal Patidar of Bharat Bhavan in Bhopal to organize an international symposium at which we presented our works to a large and receptive audience.

bharat bhavan symp

Bhopal is a city that is very supportive of the arts, and we visited a number of beautiful museums, among them the astounding Madhya Pradesh Tribal Museum.  Much thanks to Devilal for rolling out the red carpet for us all!

And then, too soon, it was time for me to say adios…..

DSC_0507_01
A photo of our bisqued works laid out for an experimental woodfire. Eugenia’s lively elephants take front stage.

I had to leave the group a few days early, since my husband was flying to Kolkata for a long-awaited visit, and the return train ride would be at least twenty hours with the currently foggy weather conditions.  Nevertheless,  I left with many great memories!!  Much thanks to Ambica and Tanya, to Aditi for the invitation, Devilal, and to all of the other artists for the clayful camaraderie.  We shall meet again!

 

 

The Goddess of Knowledge

Saraswati is the goddess of knowledge, music and art, and is the daughter of Lord Shiva and Ma Durga.   In West Bengal, Saraswati is revered by schools and universities, because of the belief that she endows the worshipper with speech, wisdom and learning.

Saraswati Puja takes place this year in later January, so preparations of clay images at Kumartuli began in late December.   The energy at Kumartuli is much quieter than the frenzied activity of Durga Puja preparations, but there were a group of artisans in the neighborhood who were making some spectacular images!

G0032209    G0032226G0032213

   
G0032583
This image is 10-12 feet tall.
G0031342
This image is about 14 feet tall.

 

Saraswati is either accompanied by or seated on a swan, and is dressed in white for purity.  In the images made at Kumartuli, she is mostly depicted with two hands that play a stringed instrument called the veena.  In the images where she has four hands, the other two hands will hold a rosary and a book.

G0032576
Tiny Saraswati images.
G0032451
Pair of life sized Saraswati figures placed as if conversing.

 

G0032522

Saraswati is also a prominent figure in Buddhist iconography – the consort of Manjushri.   Her early history is as a river goddess, and I saw a number of figures adorned with flowing, watery imagery.

G0032646

Dilip Pal and his assistants were working on eleven commissioned Saraswati images during this time, ranging from two to four feet tall. The floor of Dilipda’s studio at the Shovabazar Rajbari was blanketed with straw, as assistant Netal Pal bent and wrapped and compressed the straw into voluptuous female forms.

G0031832      G0031745

 G0031693     G0032021

IMG_2979
Small Saraswati pandal in the Kumartuli neighborhood.

IMG_2980

Elements

In December I was very busy with a project called ELEMENTS. ELEMENTS was an experimental art installation for children in Kolkata, the first of its kind in India, and for the kids it was a thrilling sensory experience. Created by Ruchira Das of ThinkArts, this multimedia project melded puppetry, motion-activated laser and sound, and clay.  When I met Ruchira, she knew that she wanted to include clay in the project, but was still looking for ideas of what to do and for an artist to make it happen.  After my months of observing the processes at Kumartuli, the maker in me leapt into action and I suggested that we draw upon Kumartuli for inspiration and create straw figures for the children to cover with clay.   Ruchira agreed, and I happily became part of the project.  I decided that these straw, jute, and bamboo figures would be life-sized children; my reasoning was that I wanted the children to be able to relate directly to the forms as reflections of themselves.

DSC_0014 DSC_0005

Working in straw is seriously fun!  And the camaraderie of  our diverse group made the experience even more enjoyable.  Here are the figures the night before the installation opened, with just a hint of clay to get the children started.

Elements process view 2

The children at play, more than 150 kids participated!

Elements process view 3 Elements process view 4

And by the end of the event, the figures were transformed.  For me there’s a poetry to these cracking layers of clay, unselfconsciously (maybe even  gleefully?) slathered onto the straw forms.  I love them.

Elements final result view 2

Elements final result view 6 Elements final result view 7

Given the success of this installation, Ruchira Das plans to have another ELEMENTS event in Kolkata very soon, and is also working on taking the ThinkArts project to other cities such as Delhi and Bangalore.”

Krishnagar clay

From practically the first moment since I stepped off the plane in Kolkata in late August, people have been telling me to visit the town of Krishnagar.  Last week I had the opportunity to visit there with a group of artist friends.  Krishnagar is famous for the production of highly realistic sculpture, from larger than life to extremely minature sculptures.

We visited with local sculptor Subir Pal, who has both a shop on the main road for his finished works, as well as a workshop that is just a short walk down a small alleyway near the shop.

DSC_0095Subir Pal’s showroom with cabinet of narrative clay works

DSC_0038His workshop

DSC_0045Workers and apprentices busy with their various tasks.

DSC_0046Subir Pal with work in process

DSC_0064

Subir Pal also works in fiberglass (as well as stone, plaster, bronze, and cement).  Check out this cow – sculptural trompe l’oeil – in the photo above.  Photo below, another cow sculpture is stored in the workshop loft.

DSC_0066

In the alleyway between workshop and showroom, we encountered the raw, unprepared Krishnagar clay, loaded up onto a bicycle  cart

DSC_0029

According to Subir Pal, this clay is so dense that it is as hard as stone without being fired!  I remain skeptical, but hopeful, since he generously gave me a big chunk of the clay to try it out!

DSC_0079These minatures are really amazing!

DSC_0077

Below, Subir Pal’s “artist’s reserve” of minature sculptures.  Wow.

DSC_0089

Kali Ma

I prefer Kali to Durga.  Why?  Since I’m not exactly sure, I thought I’d use the writing of this post to help figure it out.

DSC_0677

In Kolkata, Kali certainly has less fanfare than the almighty Durga, but from my vantage point, Kali’s devotees appear to have as much or maybe even more fervor for their goddess.  While Durga is considered to be the goddess of supreme power, Kali is thought of as the goddess of empowerment.  That strikes a chord in me – copacetic to what I feel and think when making my figurative sculpture in Santa Cruz.

Kali fascinates me — consider her lolling tongue, that rhythmically wonderful strand of severed, grimacing heads around her neck, and DSC_0514her very active gesture of stomping on her consort Lord Shiva (other interpretations are that of accidentally doing so, and also that her foot on his body calms her anger).

Regarding Durga, even with all ten of her hands loaded with weapons, it always appears to me that her lion is doing, well, the lion’s share of the work (sic) when it comes to battling Mahishasura.

Dilipda and his assistants began their Kali in Dilipda’s studio.  DSC_0029Once  the figures of Kali and Shiva had been formed in straw, they moved them to the street outside of the Shovabazar Rajbari, just next to a tiny Shiva shrine.  Over the next several days, a bamboo, cloth and paper pandal was built over and around the figures.  I enjoyed observing this process immensely, because simply by being present in the situation, I became part of  the rhythm of the street.

 

DSC_0276
Netal Pal buiilding up Kali’s strand of demon heads.

 

DSC_0484
Dilipda at final clay detailing stages of his Kali Ma
DSC_0548
Dilipda’s Kali, now painted and adorned with flowing black tresses. Dilipda completes the final details on Kali’s consort, Lord Shiva.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DSC_0599

The fabulous Kali figure above stunned me outside another shop in Kumartuli!  Kali Ma!

Beauty and Chaos

“Beauty and Chaos”  – one way to describe that which is Durga Puja!

We heard this phrase first from photographer Dev Nayak,  when Stan and I met him while undergoing some serious “pandal-hopping” with Partha Dey in South Kolkata.  Dev’s actually comment was, “Beauty and chaos, in India you can’t have one without the other!”

It’s Monday evening, the day before Durga Puja celebrations are in full force for the next five days.  Even so, as the evening progresses, the streets began to swell with people eager to preview this year’s creations.  Pandals (the name for the structures that are build to house the Durga Puja sculptures) are everywhere, in the numerous parks, jutting out into the street, tucked into every possible nook and cranny.

DSC_0316

This most spectacular of spectacles could be likened to a combination of Disney World, Las Vegas, and Burning Man (sans nudity).  We saw everything from the grandest commercial extravaganzas to tiny, lovingly heartfelt private family shrines (the truth: these are my faves).  The estimate that I’d heard several times was upwards of 15000 Durga images in Kolkata alone!  Most pandals are sponsored by clubs and other local community organizations, with some sponsorship from local businesses.

DSC_0288

The biggest, most elaborate pandals usually have snagged big corporate sponsorships, are themed, and often have renowned artists and designers at their organizational helms.  The planning for next year’s big-budget pandals begins almost immediately after the prior year’s celebrations!  There are also many sponsored pandal contests, with celebrities and other prominent personages as their judges.  At the heart of each pandal, somewhere within, often underneath a plethora of clothing, hair, props, and other decorations, are the clay, straw, and bamboo figures that brought me to Kolkata.

Enough chatter for the moment, yes?  Time to show you some pics!

DSC_0256

Enter into a giant lotus with whirling imagery

DSC_0269

DSC_0275

DSC_0276

Durga looms above it all

DSC_0248Insanely crafted, metal leaf-covered Buddhist temple-inspired pandal

DSC_0246

DSC_0232

A glimpse of a golden Durga inside

DSC_0229

 Below is a pandal dedicated to late Bollywood actress Suchitra Sen, who died earlier this year.DSC_0065_01

DSC_0070_01

DSC_0067_01

 

 

DSC_0190

A smaller, but charming pandal with figurative columns

DSC_0204

DSC_0203

I’ve been enjoying the chandeliers of each pandal – they are often over the top!

DSCN3527

 Community-sponsored pandal

DSC_0148_01

DSC_0158_01

Walkway towards family puja pandal of a very sweet and welcoming retired doctor.

DSC_0111_01

His Durga pandal is below.

 DSC_0098_01

And below is an example of some of the fabulously creative decorated walkways intended to entice viewers towards a pandal

DSCN3408

More Durga Puja tomorrow……

Mahalaya

The countdown to Durga Puja is well underway by Mahalaya,  which is observed seven days before (September 23rd for 2014).  It’s on Mahalaya that preparations for Durga Puja reach their final stages, and it’s believed that on this day Durga, the goddess of supreme power, descends to earth.  One older custom still observed by some is the painting of Durga’s eyes on this day, as a symbol of her invocation and impending presence.

On Mahalaya, my husband Stan and I paid an early morning visit  to the Shovabazar Rajbari.  Dilipda’s Durga sculptural tableauxl had been painted and dressed, but final details, such as hair and weapons or instruments that the gods and goddess hold in their hands, have not yet been added.  While we were there, we encountered Sri Krishna Deb, the community organizer for the Shovabazar’s pandal presentation.  Sri Deb graciously invited us to attend the community’s Mahalaya celebrations that evening!

When we returned in the evening, the celebration was getting underway with a beautiful ceremony in which many small oil-filled clay dishes were lit.

DSCN3335

IMG_2200

After the lamps were lit, Sri Deb rang the puja bell.  Far in the distance (center of the  photograph) you can see a priest sitting on the ground and performing the evening’s rites.

 

 

 

 

IMG_2189

 

Then began a lovely musical program including members throughout the Shovabazar community, beginning with the youngest members, and progressing to the most accomplished dancers and musicians.

 

 

 

IMG_2218Invoking Durga through dance!